People in the times of the coronavirus crisis – Eyewitness Suzanne Benadie from Sense of Africa in South Africa

Being the not-so-secret ambassador of South Africa, I feel this natural curiosity for the country. I like to know what South Africans are up to. Suzanne Benadie who lives in Johannesburg has worked in tourism ever since leaving school in 1989. She started her career as a tourist guide. Over the years, her love of nature and conservation areas across Southern Africa grew even stronger. Today, together with travelling, the protection of wildlife and creating sustainability for locals is what she is most passionate about.

Suzanne is the Sales and Marketing Director of Sense of Africa South Africa, one of the leading destination management companies in Africa. A company strongly committed to local communities and the environment in all countries they operate. They help you with wildlife safaris, self-drive trips, cultural experiences, and group travel trips in Botswana, Kenya, Namibia, South Africa, Tanzania, and Uganda. To Suzanne, this is a dream of a job. Being in a position where she can share all there is to know about wildlife, the people, and the different cultures with guests from around the world.

A tourist and traveller at heart, spare time is spent on safari, exploring new areas, and learning about how best she can support responsible tourism. She loves gardening and spending time at home with good books and interesting documentaries. We are taking a trip to South Africa, and I am thrilled Suzanne Benadie tells me about South Africa in times of the Coronavirus crisis.

 

Suzanne Benadie  - Sense of Africa South Africa

People in the times of the coronavirus crisis – Eyewitness Sabine Blehle from GoVacation Africa in South Africa

As we know life is what happens when one is busy making other plans. And life happened. Unexpectedly. Sabine Blehle grew up on a dairy farm in the South of Germany. She finished a degree in tourism and put her skills to good use at the local tourism office. Wanting to see more lead her to South Africa. All the ones who visited South Africa know that the country is the ideal place to gain more experience in tourism. Forever an admirer of the great outdoors, she planned to stay for one year. Today, South Africa has been her home for 23 years. Not shy of pursuing happiness, Sabine worked her way up all the way to the top. She started out as a consultant and is now the CEO for GoVacation Africa, a full service destination management company, specialising in inbound travel. She loves that she can share the love for South Africa with her clients. Sabine Blehle lives in Johannesburg.

Sabine Blehle from GoVacation Africa in Cape Town - South Africa.
Sabine Blehle - Chapman's Peak Drive
 

The pandemic is ongoing. In some places, travel is coming back. There are countries where hospitality businesses have been open for months already. Others where cafés and restaurants have been closed for over six months. It all depends on numbers. The coronavirus. We live in complicated and confusing times, and we should remember that it is only a phase and not a bad life. Places get put on red lists; hometowns become risk areas. Things change fast. Some countries are great with the vaccination rollout. Others haven't made much progress. And again others refuse to provide numbers. One thing is for sure, hopes are high that as many people as possible get vaccinated as soon as possible. I keep on following the recommendations given by experts. Physical distancing, hand washing, and wearing a face cover.

Tourism and hospitality businesses guarantee economic stability for many. Businesses are reopening in many places. Sabine Blehle tells us about the situation in South Africa and about how she experiences it.

Bookshops recommend the best novels to transport you to their hometowns

Sitting in a bar by this swimming pool. Sipping espresso. Looking into the far distance. There is loud music playing. This is heaven for all the ones who only like music when played loud. The sky is of a bright big blue, the day is almost too hot. Right next to me sits what seems to be a large family. An elderly woman, most likely in her eighties, she is tiny and wrinkly. There are a few who could be her children, and these also brought their children along to the gathering. One of the younger couples has a baby, wearing a onesie with round ears. They take family photos. Making memories. They do it in every line-up and arrangement possible. The young dad wears a t-shirt and cap that tells everybody how much he loves Miami. I never meet the grandpa and I probably never will. (Vinales, Cuba). 

Armchair travel the world. Bookshops recommend the best novels to transport you to their hometowns

People like a good story. You can read novels to learn about places and to prepare for a trip. Some of us visit places and read stories about them while on location. Some of us love reading stories about places before a visit. Some of us read to travel. There are so many stories out there, so many stories that explain places and people. Towns and cities have forever been changing fast. And what is better than understanding the why? We probably know about all the stereotypes of a place. In most cases, it turns out that stereotypes hardly ever mirror reality.

Travel Germany. Schwerin: A town and its Castle - one thousand years of history


Schwerin Castle is a prime example of Romantic historicism in Europe. I find that its home on one of Schwerin’s many islands makes this place extraordinary charming. Imagination inspires the soul. We all need courage, confidence, and dreams just in the same way as we also need water and air to survive. Occasionally, we all should visit fairytale-like places that tell a story. Stories that remind us that there is always a solution no matter how complicated and hopeless the situation is. It is important to find meaning and to look at through what adventures the ones before us had to go before they experienced their fairy-tale-like ending.

Europe is an ideal place to look at and visit castles, true. One can visit more than two thousand manor houses, palaces, and castles in Mecklenburg Western Pomerania alone. You can spend a whole lifetime visiting historical sites without experiencing a dull day.

Mecklenburg-Western Pomerania is one of Germany's sixteen states. You find it in the north of the country, with its coastline on the Baltic Sea. After World War II and until the fall of the wall it was on the territory of the German Democratic Republic. A particular impressive castle is in Schwerin. Schwerin, in the west of the state, is the capital of Mecklenburg Western Pomerania. This friendly and small town with a population of only 100,000, was first mentioned in 1018, and Heinrich the Lion awarded it city rights in 1164. You find a whopping total of twelve lakes within the city’s boundaries.

Travel Germany. Schwerin: A town and its Castle - one thousand years of history

Travel Germany and Poland – UNESCO World Heritage site Prince-Pueckler-Park Bad Muskau and Muskau Castle


This is a story about intercultural projects, heritage, history, gardening, and peace. Europe, that is diverse culture, food, people, and landscapes. Europe has thousands of towns, places, villages, beaches, and mountains. One would need a lifetime and more to see all Europe has to offer. Next time you visit Berlin, take a day to visit a castle in the German state of Saxony.

The Free State of Saxony in the eastern part of Germany is surrounded by four German states, by Brandenburg, Saxony-Anhalt, Thuringia, and Bavaria. Poland and the Czech Republic are just a skip and a jump away. Bad Muskau, a spa town, is located on the Lusatian Neisse. Muskau Castle, built in Neo-Renaissance style, in the Fuerst-Pückler-Park in Bad Muskau is a castle complex in the north of the German state of Saxony. The river forms the German-Polish border ever since 1945, and the town sits directly opposite the town of Łęknica in Poland. Within a few moments, you can walk through the Fuerst-Pueckler-Park Bad Muskau from Germany to Poland. One park, two countries and one UNESCO World Heritage site? What is not to like?

Travel Germany and Poland. UNESCO World Heritage Site. Prince Pueckler Park. Bad Muskau

People in the times of the coronavirus crisis – Eyewitness Johann Groenewald from Tracks4Africa in South Africa


Travelling has been put on hold. In some places, travel is slowly coming back. Some countries open borders again, others not. No one knows what is going to happen next or what is best to do. The world remains in the grip of the coronavirus. Will there be a vaccine? No one knows. Will there be a cure? No one knows that either. It is still too soon to know how it all works out. Epidemiologists are still searching for answers. For now, we will have to accept that the virus is a reality. It is best to follow recommendations given by experts, like physical distancing, and thorough hand washing and wearing a face cover to protect others. It is all we know for now, and things might be different next week when there is more or again even different evidence. We need to accept that we have to be flexible these days, for now, to get on with life. What we can do is dreaming of travelling and plan trips (be it in the near- or far future).

Even in all the countries that are loosening restrictions, or all the places that plan to loosen them, it does not mean that the virus is gone. As much as everyone wants this to be. It does mean places are reopening for economic reasons. Tourism and hospitality are important for the travel industry and guarantee economic stability for many. In several places in this world restaurants, hotels, and shops might be welcoming guests again. It is then down to each individual to decide which risk they want to take, and how responsible each individual plans to protect others.

A journey without a map?

I am a passionate self-drive tourist. You can travel at your own pace, you can make as many photo-stops as you want, and best, wherever you want them. You can sleep where you fancy. You can cook what you want, sit around the campfire for as long as you want, and get up as early in the morning as you want. I created many memories in South Africa and her neighbouring countries. On many different trips, we drove over 60,000 kilometres through South Africa, Namibia, Botswana, and Zimbabwe, even if that was only for a few kilometres to marvel at the Victoria Falls. So many places, so many memories, no one can take these away. The kilometres sound a lot but there are many places I dream of visiting still. It is a love that big.

While travelling through Southern Africa, there is one thing that makes road trips so much easier. Tracks4Africa. I explain this with a little travel story. I vividly remember that day in Botswana, when we drove for seven hours up and down the same sand track since we could not find the turn that would lead us to our camp for the night. We had been in Moremi for several days already, we had been to Xakanaxa and to Khwai. Plains were flooded, we were delighted every time we found a sandy track.

Seeing is believing

So, there is this one day. We were driving from Khwai to Savuti. Tracks4Africa (the navigation system) told us over and over we had to turn left at this particular point on the sand track. To us, it looked as we would be driving straight into thick scrub if we would follow that advice. It looked so wrong. So, we kept driving up and down and searching for the right track. A full seven hours later a construction worker in his lorry appeared out of nowhere. He stopped us, obviously as perplexed as we felt. "Guys, what are you doing here?" I looked at him somewhat exhausted "We can't find the track to Savuti." He laughed, very loud "Right, I can see that. I have been watching you for a few hours." We had a little chat. Guess what happened. He pointed us exactly towards that massive scrub where Tracks4Africa wanted to send us down. We drove towards the scrub. It turned out that the scrub had simply heavily overgrown the track. Behind it lay our very own Shangri-La. Our very own little paradise, a marvellous free sand track.

It is hilarious in hindsight and a good travel memory. Tracks4Africa covers all tracks, big and small, I use it on a Garmin. It also gives lots of helpful details of places which I would not find in any other source of information. It is the ideal travel partner.

Make Africa visible and accessible to the world

Let us go back two decades, to the year 2000, when there was a lack of maps for GPS navigation. Until then visitors to remote parts of Africa had to travel solely with paper maps. With technology so many more opportunities became possible. Soon, road trip enthusiasts started sharing their GPS tracks and waypoints with each other. The passion of a few grew into Tracks4Africa.

Many hours of hard work can be briefly described as this. It sounds so easy and I am sure building a company from scratch is anything but easy. They built Garmin compatible maps with user-generated content. They started selling maps on CDs. They started creating routable maps and later became the first to offer routable maps from Cape to Cairo. They then added photo sharing of waypoints. They started publishing self-driving paper guidebooks. Today their service is also available in the form of an app.

The company is owned and managed by Wouter Brand and Johann Groenewald. We cannot go to South Africa right now, but we can ask the locals about their country. Johann Groenewald lives in Stellenbosch in the Western Cape of South Africa. I contact him to find out how life is in times of the Coronavirus crisis. 

A short-haired smiling man wearing a T-Shirt showing the map of the African continent, in front of a photo mural of a Land Rover on an off-road track.
Johann Groenewald from Tracks4Africa

People in the times of the coronavirus crisis – Eyewitness Johann Groenewald from Tracks4Africa in South Africa

People in the times of the coronavirus crisis – Eyewitness Annemi Zaaiman from EcoTraining in South Africa


The coronavirus crisis drags along. Life to me feels as if I had stepped into old chewing gum on the pavement. You know that feeling, of not wanting that chewing gum there but somehow not being able to get rid of it.

Most of us cannot travel right now. Ever since 1998 I travel to South Africa once a year, there might be one year in between when I did not go. I love the wide-open sky, the endless and often lonesome roads, the bush, the wildlife, drinking Rooibos tea at farmstalls. I love the smell of the ocean and beach walks. I love the strong wind in Cape Town, as well as the restaurant scene, the design, the atmosphere, and my little friends, the penguins.

There are countries were quarantine measures are starting to be relaxed, but only after numbers of new coronavirus infections are low enough to not overburden the health system. Times are uncertain. The virus is still too new to understand everything. Teams of epidemiologists and virologists research tirelessly to get us as fast as possible out of this situation, or at least to come up with suggestions how to adapt life to the situation so that we can move on. Politicians who cannot foresee the future, even if they would love to, get all the blame. The situation is gloomy for everyone and terrifying. We live in exciting times. Sharing stories and knowing that no one of us is alone in this, helps.

We cannot go to South Africa right now, but we can ask the locals about their country. Annemi Zaaiman lives with her family of four in the Nelspruit area, the gateway to the Kruger National Park. She works at EcoTraining.

A group of roughly 30 Springbok antelopes under a tree, three of them facing the camera

EcoTraining - preserving wildlife and serving local communities through environmental education

EcoTraining, founded in 1993, is specialised in safari guide- and wildlife training. They believe in preserving wildlife and serving local communities through environmental education. Their bush camps are located across four African countries, in South Africa, Kenya, Botswana and Zimbabwe. They offer over 12 courses, from five-day nature programmes to one-year professional accredited courses. All conducted in remote wilderness areas. One wildlife training facility is even situated inside the Kruger National Park. International university students from the US and the UK, aiming for a career in conservation, train at their facilities. So far, they trained over 11,000-course participants and professional field guides from 33 countries.

There are four different training camps in South Africa. The Makuleke Concession is the wildest and most remote part of the Kruger National Park and not accessible to tourists. It is situated between the Limpopo and the Luvuvhu Rivers in the northern section of the Park. Karongwe Camp is on the banks of the Karongwe River in the Karongwe Game Reserve, to the south-west of the Kruger National Park. The Selati camp is situated on the banks of the Selati River, in the Selati Game Reserve, to the west of the Kruger National Park. Pridelands Conservancy in the Limpopo Province of South Africa, north of the Hoedspruit Airforce base. In September 2017, it became part of the Kruger National Park.

The Vic Falls camp in Zimbabwe is on the Masuie River, a tributary of the great Zambezi River in the Stanley & Livingstone Private Game Reserve.

The Mashatu Reserve in Botswana is part of the Northern Tuli Game Reserve. It is located at the confluence of the Limpopo and the Shashe Rivers, in the easternmost corner of the country.

There are two camps in Kenya, the Borana Conservancy, and the Mara Training centre. The Borana camp lies at the foot of Mount Kenya, just 26 kilometres from the equator. It is right within the vast area of the Ewaso ecosystem on the Laikipia Plateau. The Borana Conservancy is a non-profit conservation organisation dedicated to the sustainable conservation of critical habitat and wildlife. It has received the Ecotourism Kenya Award for best conservancy. The Mara Training centre is located on the banks of the Mara River and part of the Mara Serengeti ecosystem.

I check in with Annemi Zaaiman to hear from her about the situation in South Africa. She tells me about the current crisis and its challenges and opportunities for EcoTraining.
 
The upper body of a friendly smiling woman with chin-length dark hair, wearing large hoop earrings and a flowery shirt.
Annemi Zaaiman from EcoTraining